ccm Cross 0143
Wednesday September 13, 2017

Grace Bible Church
Berwyn, Illinois
ccm Cross 0143

GPS/DMS 41.8506° N 87.7937° W

Additional pictures after testimony:

4420 cdd Set Free
Cyber Daily Devotiion
Volume 18 Number 190

Today’s Author: Pastor Bill

Scripture: John 8:36
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” NKJV

Al Capone the notorious Chicago gangster, serial killer John Wayne Gacy and the Chicago Seven anti Viet Nam riot group were all residents of the notorious Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC) or Cook County Jail. The CCDOC is one of the largest jails in America at 96 acres and services the Metropolitan Chicago area. CCDOC is ranked number three by In Mate Survival as the Worst, Toughest, Deadliest and Most Dangerous of county jails and prisons in the USA.

Hello, my name is Pastor Ivan Ramirez and this is my Cross testimony of how as I reached the end of my life Jesus stepped in and claimed me for His.

I grew up the youngest of seven children in the South Lawndale area of Chicago, Illinois. My dad was a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver. Mom worked in a meat packing plant for a few years than stayed home to care for all of us. We never went to church as a family. During my childhood, my oldest sister would occasionally take me to a church or I went on my own once or twice a year.

While growing up we had a group of kids that learned about the streets early. As we grew most did their best to avoid the gangs and all the illegal activity. But I got involved with our local Chicago street gang in my mid-teens. I was lonely and bored.

The streets gave me a place to belong. They became the most significant thing in my life. So much that I dropped out of school and spent most of my time with my “friends.”  Eventually, this would all come crashing down.

Over time my criminal intent ushered in loneliness. Depression set in. I felt trapped in an endless cycle of drug abuse and criminal activity with no way out. I decided to end things by taking my life. Unbeknownst to me, the Lord was working in my life, drawing me to Himself.

Instead of ending things, I cried out for help. I was not a Christian nor did I even know how to pray, but I knew enough about God’s ability to help in these kinds of situations. What I didn’t know is how that help would come.

A few months later fifteen of the gang were arrested by the Chicago police and accused of 1 murder, 2 attempted murders and 15 aggravated assaults.

I landed in Chicago’s super maximum-security division of the Cook County jail, facing life in prison for crimes I did not commit. Looking back, I can see how I needed to be removed from all those things that were distracting me from the Lord.

I was given a Bible while in jail. I began to read it. The more I read the more I wanted to read. For the first time in my life religion was making sense. Then I requested to go to chapel. I heard a testimony from the preacher how he was delivered from a twenty-year sentence. I went back to my cell and plowed into the Bible with a new vigor. I gave my life to Jesus while sitting in that jail. It was the first time in my life I felt truly set free.

From that moment on I was a changed man.  Eventually I could love those who wrongfully accused me and have shared Jesus with them. Only Jesus could do something like this!

There is a separate section in the CCDOC that is for Christians. I asked to go. They required that I renounce my gang ties. I met with the gang members in prison and told them I was leaving them for Jesus. They cautioned me very carefully to reconsider. Fear gripped me. I felt like Judas turning on Jesus. Or Peter denying Christ. You can’t serve two masters echoed in my head. I wanted out. Not many have left a Chicago gang and lived to tell the story.

A few days later I was surrounded by the gang. I was expecting to get a serious beat down or worse. The Lord intervened. They turned their backs on me and I was once again set free.

I was learning how little faith I had!

It was now two months after being arrested and I was transferred to the Christian wing in the prison. Here I found group prayer, Bible studies and chaplains who taught us scripture. A professor from the Moody Bible Institute taught us verse by verse, page by page the New Testament.

Every month I was hauled into court facing the erroneous charges. Once a month the stress was unbearable knowing that I did nothing wrong.

Back in my cell I prepared to preach my first sermon. The title, “Be Healed.” I struggled to prepare and give the talk but the affirmations from the inmates told me the Lord is good and to continue.

Since my arrest, my parents had worked for my release on bail. They had very little money or assets but friends and family stepped up. I was released when they covered a very large bail bond.

Returning to South Lawndale was not healthy for me. Departure from the gang and the ease of drugs made for a difficult transition. A youth pastor from a neighborhood a few miles away made room for me. Just a few miles away from your stomping grounds can be a life saver by removing easy access back into a life of crime, gangs and drugs. Here I began my schooling at Moody Bible Institute.

All the while, my court case bubbled up once a month. I had to attend court sessions. Ultimately the Lord intervened here too — I was acquitted of all charges. Fifteen of us were arrested. Thirteen took a plea deal with a reduced sentence and two of us pleaded not guilty. The other who pleaded not guilty was found guilty. I was the only one of the fifteen who did not serve time and was acquitted. I was set free again.

Once the court was behind me I went to a Bible conference in Florida. I didn’t know it at the time but Jeff driving our van would be my father in law one day. This convention led to college at Calvary Bible College near Kansas City, Missouri. I had met Amy, the love of my life and future wife, but our relationship did not become serious until she graduated college. While I was in Kansas City we kept in contact and became engaged.

Two years later, I graduated from Calvary Bible College, I moved back to Chicago and we were married. I began as Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Berwyn, Illinois. We now live nineteen miles due west of where I grew up in South Lawndale.

Amy and I have been Pastoring here at Grace ever since. We now have three wonderful children. Grace 8, Wesley 5 and Elliot 2.

My favorite Bible verse is Philippians 3:10
“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” NLT (Bible Paraphrase)

For me the best part of being a Pastor is the people. I enjoy sharing God’s word with them as we teach the scriptures and watch as it transforms their lives.

This Cross planted is a large message to our community that we love Jesus. If they are looking for a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, JESUS IS HERE!

Personally, this Cross is a call to follow Christ. For each of us to take up our Cross and follow HIM!

Before coming to Christ, during my gang and drug days, I dropped out of school twice. But the grace of Jesus is so large anything is possible. Since graduating from college and becoming the Pastor at Grace Bible Church I have continued my Christian education earning my Masters Degree in Divinity from Moody Bible Institute. And today I’m enrolled in a Doctoral Program at Northern Seminary.

Jesus saved a wretch like me for His purposes. He can do it for you and your loved ones. Never give up in prayer asking Jesus for those you love most to be set free.

Prayer: Father thank you for making ways in the darkest of times for Jesus to shine and revolutionize even the worst situations for His Kingdom purposes. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!